Monday, 5 September 2016

Cuttlefish, onions and lentils with samphire and clams

I’ve wanted to develop a recipe with cuttlefish for a long time now. At work, their peculiar and often very inky forms make an occasional appearance on the slab, but due to the sporadic nature of their availability, until now I haven’t quite managed to steal the right moment. And I thought that this summer would be very much the same, and instead I’ve been largely (and very happily) feasting on its close relations, the octopus and the squid. So when I opened a box one sunny morning a few weeks ago and was greeted by pile of particularly fine specimens, I just knew I had to take some home and fire up the hobs. 

Cuttlefish is definitely something that we should be eating more of in this country. But unlike squid or octopus that are well and truly pinned onto the food map, cuttlefish gets all the bad press. That is, no press at all. Admittedly as a fishmonger they can be a bit of a nightmare due to their tendency to be messy and time consuming to prepare. But often it doesn’t even reach that point, with customers going down the safe old salmon, cod and tuna route. With the prices of these prime fish soaring, the cuttlefish still carries an unfashionable price tag, has bags of flavour and is a doddle to cook. All it needs is a decent national PR spin…  

This dish represents exactly the type of food that I love to eat as we slide into Autumn with a chilly wind and grey cloud of rain. Slow, easy cooking that is all about the development of flavour over a little patient simmering. Food that can be sliced and eaten with a spoon. Now we’re in September, the shellfish will start to get slightly stronger, and soon we’ll see Shetland mussels back in their prime. Samphire is slowly heading the other way, and I’m finding any excuse to introduce a handful into my meals. Before long that vibrant green will be replaced by the burnished oranges and reds of squashes, apples and corn. I can’t wait.   

Serves 2 for a main, or 4 for a lunch or starter 


2-3 small cuttlefish, cleaned, with the tentacles and ink sacs reserved 
1 onion, finely sliced 
2 cloves of garlic, grated 
1 tsp fennel seeds 
1 tsp dried chilli flakes 
1 tsp dried oregano 
1 glass of white wine 
500ml chicken stock 
2 sachets of cuttlefish ink 
¾ of a mug of firm lentils, such as Puy 
1 lemon, juice and zest 
1 small bunch of parsley, finely chopped  

To finish:  

12-15 clams 
A handful of samphire 
The tentacles from the cuttlefish, cut into 3 or 4 pieces


Slice the cleaned and skinned body and wings of the cuttlefish into chunky centimetre-thick strips. Pour a generous glug of olive oil into a large saucepan and bring up to a medium-high temperature. Fry the cuttlefish for 3-4 minutes, turning occasionally, until they start to turn golden. Season well. Turn the heat down slightly and add the onion, garlic, fennel seeds, dried chilli and oregano. Continue to fry everything together for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften slightly. Turn the head back up and pour in the wine. Allow the liquid to bubble away and reduce by half. Stir in the ink from the sachets, and carefully squeeze in the ink collected from the cuttlefish sacs (use an extra two sachets if you can’t collect them). Stir well, then top up with the chicken stock. Bring back to the boil, then turn down to a very gently simmer. Cover the saucepan with a lid and cook for 30 minutes. 

After 30 minutes, pour the lentils into the saucepan and stir everything well. Continue to simmer for a further 30 minutes.  

Bring a frying pan to a high heat and pour in a good glug of olive oil. When the pan is very hot, add the cuttlefish tentacles and a good pinch of seasoning. Fry for 2-3 minutes, turning once, until golden and slightly crispy. Remove from the pan onto a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain. Keep warm.  

Bring a saucepan to a high heat. Add the clams and a small splash of water. Seal the pan tightly with a lid, and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the clams all open. Turn the heat down and stir in the samphire. Cook for a further minute, then remove from the heat. 

Finish the lentils by stirring in the parsley and squeezing in the lemon juice. Taste and add more seasoning if needed.  

To serve, spoon the lentils and cuttlefish into shallow bowls and top with the samphire, clams and crispy tentacles. Finish with a scattering of the lemon zest and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.